Lately, life feels in suspended animation. The reality that neither vaccines nor a new year would be the magic bullet that slays Covid-19 has sunk in. I find myself avoiding conversations because, what is there to say? Comparing notes on pandemic restrictions and case rates is a habit I can’t shake, a mid-apocalypse verbal tic.
Though I’ve done my share of drinking during video calls (not meetings) it hadn’t occurred to me that making wine the focal point of a call could lead to a new connection. Then the folks at Landlines Estates, part of the Montinore family wine business, offered to send some samples from the biodynamically farmed Tidalstar Vineyard. We arranged to share the bottles with my sister and brother-in-law, and set a tasting date.
We have tasted a lot of wine together over the years, often hopping into a car on a Saturday afternoon to head to some fairy-dust sprinkled corner of the Willamette Valley to drink bliss-inducing Pinot Noirs and hedgehog-spiky Pinot Gris. This time, my husband and I were in our living room, cats wandering in and out. My sister and her husband settled at their breakfast bar, dogs bouncing around.
First up was a 2017 Lost Corner Chardonnay. We decided to taste first, read the notes later. “You can tell there’s oak, but it’s light, almost floral,” was my brother-in-law’s first comment. He tasted pear, cut grass and sourdough.
My sister scented vanilla and dried flowers.“It smells like fresh hay.”
The tasting notes suggested: “Pleasing aromas of Meyer lemon, orange blossom, cut grass, coconut and wet stone… The entry brings sweet, ripe pear followed by chamomile, green apple and citrus notes.”
“Chamomile,” she said, “that sounds right.”
The consensus on food pairing was something light, barbecued veggies grilled halibut, a Caprese salad.
“Definitely something to drink outside,” my BIL suggested.
Spoiled for choice by having three Pinot Noirs to taste, we opted to start with the 2017 Great Circle. Since, of the three, it is made from the widest range of vineyard blocks (eight) and the clones (six) it represents the nearest these super-premium, single estate wines get to a ‘blend’. My sister described the color as ‘cranberry jelly.’ The flavor? Classic cool climate Noir: acidic with lots of dark fruit like blackberry and black cherry. The twist? A herbal note of fresh rosemary and touch of cedar.
“Light and clean,” was the verdict.
“Cherry cordial, blackberry compote and bramble are seasoned with sandalwood and spice,” proclaimed the tasting notes. “A mélange of fruit and savory flavors including cranberry, raspberry.”
My brother-in-law suggested cedar plank-salmon as its perfect match.
We concurred would be just as easy to quaff without food. Or with my personal fave wine snack, Kettle Chips.
To be sure, we poured another glass.
This put us in the right frame of mind for bottle number three, the 2017 Proper Motion Pinot Noir. We dawdled to admire the elegant, geometric label graphics and discuss the names’ astronomical references; although only my husband, a pilot, could actually explain what ‘great circle’ or ‘proper motion’ means (the latter is, “an expression of a star’s movement across the sky, measured in relation to other celestial bodies over years or even centuries,” per the tasting notes).
My sister took a deep whiff: “It smells like happiness.”
“Floral, like blackberry blossoms, not blackberries.”
“It’s like walking outside in late July or August.”
“Great Circle was, like, June.”
We supped and let the flavors sort themselves: ripe black fruits, blackcurrant, charred wood, clove.
“A mouthful of black cherry, dried blueberry and baking spice linger on the gently resinous palate,” I read.
“Like I said, ‘clove’!” my brother-in-law laughed.
Another generous slosh to consider possible food pairings. Their new dog, a rescued McNab collie with the legs of an Olympic high-jumper catapulted into view. Not to be outdone, I scooped up one of our clan of rescue kittens and dandled her in front of the camera. Pup and kit promptly bored of our static company and shot off on their respective missions, leaving us breathing space for another bottle.
As for food, smoked pork, pulled pork or “strongly-seasoned chicken.” As a vegetarian, I’d probably go for something with richness but not too much umami – mushrooms cooked with olive oil and garlic, or pasta with artichoke hearts and fresh cheese.
We had reached the (2017) Shy Horizon, made from Dijon 777 grapes grown in three blocks, and aged 18 months in 100% French oak.
The nose was unmistakably floral, the first sip exquisitely smooth.
“Easiest to drink” my sister judged, though we couldn’t rule out the possibility that being fourth on the tasting list had something to do with that.
It tasted of blackberry honey, ripe plums, blackberries, sandalwood and vanilla.
“Reminds me of a rum,” was one observation which prompted another: that Shy Horizon would pair well with roast pork or other Caribbean flavors.
It had distinct minerality but the overall effect was of full, mellow ripeness.
“If Great Circle was June and Proper Motion was August, this is September.”
Most important, they were a long way from January in a pandemic.
Official tasting complete, we topped up our glasses and meandered into other topics. Family gossip, reminiscing, TV shows, things we used to talk about before Covid got our tongues.
Before we knew it, a couple of hours had passed. Wine wasn’t the source of our animation, but it was a catalyst. It reminded us of happier times and of a warmer world, one in which nature is beneficent rather than destructive.